The Foreign Service Journal, September 2006

by Robert Kaplan last year. Currently, however, only an estimated 3 to 6 percent of PKO mission budgets is actu- ally spent in the local economies of the countries in which they operate. How does one contribute systematically to the stable growth of local entrepreneurial activity in the most chal- lenging environments in the world? I had an opportuni- ty to consider this question during the summer and early fall of 2005, when I traveled to U.N. peacekeeping oper- ations in six different countries to help gather information for the Peace Dividend Trust’s “Economic Impact of Peacekeeping” project. The project aims to increase the positive impact on local economies of the large sums spent by the U.N. operations. I held discussions with U.N. mission officials, economists, local businessmen, diplomats and government officials in Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti and Sudan. While one week with each PKO was hardly sufficient to achieve in-depth knowledge of these operations, and each country has its distinct character, the clear outlines of some cross-cutting themes nevertheless emerged. Local Business Is Passionate Because they may have the most direct stake in the U.N.’s economic impact, local contractors and indigenous business leaders were most passionate on these issues and often provided the most valuable insights. Among them, returning entrepreneurs play a particularly critical role. In the Congo, at what was expected to be a routine meeting with the national Chamber of Commerce presi- dent, we were ushered into a large hall where 15 or so of Kinshasa’s leading businessmen eagerly awaited this rare opportunity to air grievances regarding their inability to obtain U.N. contracts. This ethnically diverse group — including Indians, Lebanese and indigenous Congolese — had awaited the arrival of the mission with great antic- ipation. But, as they put it, they had had their hopes dashed by what they saw as a less-than-transparent con- tracting process biased in favor of external bidders. Most irate was the director of a Congolese transportation con- sortium, who had expected the U.N. to make extensive use of local aviation resources but failed to win any con- tracts. A textile manufacturer wondered why the peace- keepers could not at least buy their uniforms locally. The Chamber of Commerce leaders said they had been con- sulted by mission personnel initially, but were subse- quently ignored. There are, of course, two sides to these issues: U.N. mission officials and international contractors cite the abysmal safety record of Congolese aviation, the estab- lished practice of troop-contributing countries providing for their own soldiers, and concerns that the local busi- ness establishment was rife with cronyism and could not be counted upon to give unbiased advice. One Congolese businessman privately acknowledged to me that most local enterprises would have difficulty compet- ing with international firms in terms of the quality and quantities required for U.N. contracts. What seemed clear, however, was that there was much room for improvement in communications between the mission and the local business community. Generally, success stories were the exception rather than the rule. In Monrovia, amid the mud, dust, smoke and chaotic traffic of an industrial area on the edge of the city’s sprawl, the bare-bones office of a furniture-building enterprise seemed an unlikely setting for the recently returned, articulate Liberian manager with an MBA from the U.S. He noted that, while it involved some cumber- some procedures and delays in obtaining payments, the contract with the United Nations Mission in Liberia had given a significant boost to his firm, which was struggling for a foothold in what must be one of the toughest busi- ness environments anywhere. This firm was a beneficia- ry of the efforts of an exceptionally dedicated and enthu- siastic UNMIL chief procurement officer, who made it a point to find indigenous contractors whenever possible. Though office furniture would seem to be a natural tar- get for local procurement, the usual approach of U.N. peacekeeping operations is to bring in most furniture from outside via international “systems” contracts with big suppliers capable of meeting the large demand at mission startups. The United Nations Operation in Burundi enabled Louis Ntibuberwa to greatly expand his security business after winning a contract for the bulk of the mission’s guard F O C U S 48 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / S E P T E M B E R 2 0 0 6 William Gary Gray entered the Foreign Service in 1985, serving in Bucharest, Pretoria, Moscow, Maputo, Jakarta, Dili, Kuala Lumpur and Washington, D.C. After leaving the Service in 2002, he served as senior political adviser for the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor.